Thursday, July 8, 2010
Ask Nishi Hajime what his best time in a marathon is, and he'll quote an inordinate, 10 hour-plus time clocked in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. His worst time, he says, was a three-hour course time in Southern California.
Not that Nishi, a 61-year-old man from Japan, uses time to measure his performance. He's more likely to tell you how many pictures he took while running a course. During his most recent run, he took 150 snapshots, a low number.
Nishi has run marathons on all seven continents - yes, Virginia, there are marathons on Antarctica - and all 50 states.
He's run marathons in "only" 72 countries, which he says leaves him with 278 nations to run in. And he has run two marathons in Montana, with an upcoming third this Sunday at the Lewis and Clark Marathon in Bozeman.
Marathons, Nishi said, help him understand other cultures and places, and going slow helps him spread his philosophy, which is, basically, anti-competitive. "You don't need to be a winner all the time. The best is to be the last runner," he said Friday in an interview. "Losing is winning. Everyone can't be first, but everyone can be themselves, and that is what's beautiful." His approach draws attention. He said Germans, whose have a zeal for competition, were perplexed. "They couldn't understand why this guy looked so happy being the last runner to cross the finish line," Nishi said.
His approach also extends well beyond changing how people run races. He has a vision of a world drawn closer through running. Here's how he sees it working: First, he hopes more runners leave their countries to run elsewhere, so they can learn about other cultures. For example, before traveling to Lahore, Pakistan, to run a marathon there, all he had heard about the Muslim country was that it was the home of al Qaeda and the Taliban. But the thousands of people who lined the streets to cheer runners on changed his perception.
"Wherever I go, they love to see runners. People from all around the world love to see runners. If we open our minds about them, we can understand them," he said. Second, he hopes that as more people learn about other countries, they can begin coming together, he said. East Asian countries could form a union akin to the European Union, for example. By 2074, that union and the EU could form a trans-Eurasian group and eventually be merged with other continental unions. Nishi's travels require significant financial means, and he said he made his as the CEO of a film licensing company in Japan.
For years, he said, he focused on accumulating wealth and power. But at age 38, he lost his wife and decided to change focus."I had a mission to not just make money, not just be powerful, but be meaningful," he said.
If his vision of the future seems fanciful, he points to some of the popular movies he helped release in Japan, like "2010," a sequel to "2001: A Space Odyssey," in which Americans and Russians make a joint mission to Jupiter.
"I was very impressed by the movie, ‘2010,' he said. "2010, that's this year."
Daniel Person can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org